Open for business since 2005 – but rooting itself within the Niagara-on-the-Lake community five years prior – Stratus Vineyards has always had the mindset of staying one step ahead, if not two or three.
As a matter of fact, the team at Stratus operates under the notion that this is not some ordinary winery. Instead, it’s a place with clearly defined principles that align with deep-rooted values and sustainability goals, incorporating cutting edge innovation, sustainable design, positive change and social responsibility.
Five years after those initial first plantings in 2000, Stratus made history by opening Canada’s first LEED™ certified building, but even more notable was the fact that this was the world’s first winery to meet this extremely demanding standard. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.) It raised the bar and set a new benchmark for functionality and sustainability in wine production.
To qualify for LEED™ certification, the winery had to meet numerous criteria that reduced the negative impact on the environment during construction and on a permanent, operational basis. Among a long list of “Green” initiatives implemented at Stratus, some features include:
- Building constructed mostly with recycled materials
- Geothermal technology to heat and cool the building
- Herbicide-free vineyard
- One tree was planted for every tree cut down during construction
- Resource and energy-efficient electrical and plumbing systems
Stratus’ boldest environmental gesture was tapping the geothermal source by way of drilling 24 wells, behind the winery, each to a depth of 225 and 230 feet, where the earth remains at a constant 13 degrees Celsius. In a giant heat-pump effect, water from the wells circulates through the building, supplying all its heating and cooling needs – an extremely rare innovation back when the winery was built.
The wine we grow is dependent on the health of the land on which it is grown. We farm our vineyard and guide our winemaking as though our children’s future depends on it. Each vintage bottled is a reflection of this ongoing commitment. – Stratus Environmental Mission Statement
In terms of its effort to produce premium, sustainable wines, Stratus’ defining element is its gravity flow feature which ensures kinder, gentler handling of the grapes (eliminating pumps means less bruising and oxidation).
Much like how the winery was built, the wines at Stratus are a composition – a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Their signature wines are assemblage blends, and over the years, they’ve been that constant reminder that Ontario can and does compete in the ultra-premium varietal space.
As the Stratus website indicates: the wines here are distinctly individual, yet all crafted to the same exacting standard. Intriguing aromatics, layered complexity, rich colour, finesse. Instantly rewarding and truly age worthy. They’re wines that have more than done their part in solidifying this winery’s reputation as a gold standard for quality.
Below are five Stratus wines, sampled during a visit earlier in the year:
Stratus 2019 Riesling
A refreshing riesling, with its lovely nose of fresh lemon, peach and hints of beeswax and limestone minerality hovering quietly. The palate is off-dry, with cleansing citrus fruits and a splash of minerality. Joyful to have with any savoury dish, like fire roasted red pepper soup. ($29)
Stratus 2020 ‘Unfiltered’ Chardonnay
With a distinct golden haze, given by the inclusion of lees, look for bright and enticing aromas of fresh-cut pineapple and Bartlett pear. Flavours are zesty and tropical, with fresh lime, pineapple and coconut. It’s delicious now, but this is a wine that promises so much more complexity and gravitas in coming years. ($49)
Stratus 2019 Gamay
This is a very fresh gamay, with a complex nose of bright red berry, red currant and cedar. The palate is flavourful and juicy on the front end, with red and black berries playing a dominant role. Brambled fruit and savoury notes kick in on the mid palate and the finish is minerally and long. A beautiful expression of gamay. ($29)
Stratus 2017 Syrah
This one really had me the moment I hovered my nose over the glass. A deep nose of black fruits, black olive and smoked meat. The palate is classic syrah with its sweet chewy black fruit, tar and black olive flavours. Excellent depth with a lovely rich midpalate that segués into a long-lasting finish. Best to be patient with this one. It’s built to age. ($49)
Stratus 2018 Red
There’s always much anticipation to try the latest vintage of Stratus’ flagship wine – which in some years can be a blend of up to seven varieties, all of which are property grown. After having raved about the 2015 and 2016 vintages on separate occasions, I was really looking forward to having the opportunity to taste the 2017 and this 2018 side-by-side. The details, of course, are always in the vintages, an essential map which in turn will help one understand why one grape is used more so than the other. Remember, this is a wine whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s the Stratus Red mantra, where each particular vintage bottling is crafted to be very unique. The 2018 expression uses six different grape varieties, this time with a heavy dose of petit verdot (37%) giving the wine its firm structure and scented lift. There’s equal parts merlot and cab sauv (16% each), with malbec (15%), tannat (11%) and cabernet franc finishing it off. There’s a rich nose of raspberry, cherry, black plum and a hint of violet. On the palate, prominent flavours of plum, wood and rhubarb are rounded out by nicely integrated spice and herbs that present a savoury texture, especially towards the finish. It’s a big wine, but not a heavy wine – ABV is a very reasonable 13.3%. As per usual, the quality of this red provides for a wide range of food pairings. Hard to say which expression I’ve enjoyed the most over the years. Each have been memorable. But perhaps with some added cellaring time, a champion will one day be revealed. ($49)